By Senior Associate – Dr. Rebecca Mercieca
This past week’s power-cuts have spiked countless daily conversations and debates between ordinary residents and business owners alike interested in seeking compensation from Enemalta plc due to the long hours they are suffering without electricity supply.
A sale or a service provided or concluded between a trader and a consumer, in Malta or Gozo shall be deemed to be transactions falling within the competence of the consumer claims tribunal.
That is indeed what a gentleman did in April 2022. He filed a claim before the Consumer Claims Tribunal (CCT 60/22/MM) for the amount of Eur 62 representing the loss of products he held in his fridge and freezer due to a 20 hour long power-cut between the 4th and 5th August 2021.
The claimant even presented a breakdown of the expenses he claimed, however despite the discomfort he undoubtably suffered in the sweltering summer heat, he did not claim any moral damages.
Enemalta plc claimed that during the time of the claim there had been several ‘high tension faults’ all over Malta and that Enemalta plc was not to blame. It claimed that in terms of article 8 of Chapter 536 of the Laws of Malta it was not responsible for damages.
Enemalta’s engineer and manager had also explained that generally when a problem occurs in the main cable, Enemalta plc relies on a secondary cable, and on such date concerning the consumer’s claim, the secondary cable could not handle the load. Consequently repairs took over a day and this was not in its control and neither was it avoidable.
Limitations to Enemalta’s liability
Enemalta’s liability is limited by means of article 8 of Chapter 536 of the Laws of Malta, which states:
“A distribution system operator shall not be liable for any loss or damage, whether material or consequential, to any person or property, for any cessation of the supply of energy, which may be due to unavoidable accident, fair wear and tear or overloading due to unauthorised connection of apparatus, or to the reasonable requirements of the electrical system, or to the defects in any electrical installation not provided by the distribution system operator.”
The maximum amount one can claim before the Consumer Claims Tribunal
As of July 2023, the Consumer Claims Tribunal can hear consumer claims which involve the purchase or hire of goods by a consumer from a trader, or for the provision of services by a trader to a consumer in the value of up to €10,000 instead of €5,000. If the value of the claim exceeds €10,000 a claimant may only pursue the claim before the consumer claims tribunal if they declare that the amount of the claim which is in excess of €10,000 is being abandoned.
Is the consumer restricted to the Consumer Claims Tribunal?
The Consumer Claims Tribunal does not have exclusive jurisdiction, and it remains the consumer’s option whether to bring an action against a trader before a tribunal or before the ordinary courts.
Compensation for pain, distress and inconvenience
The Tribunal may, when determining the issues in dispute in any claim or counter-claim before it, order the trader to pay to the consumer a sum of not less than thirty-five euro (€35) and not more than five hundred euro (€500) as moral damages for any pain, distress, anxiety and inconvenience.
Concluding remarks by the Consumer Claims Tribunal (CCT 60/22/MM)
In this particular case, the CCT considered that this incident could not be avoided and thus it rejected the claimants’ claim for Eur 62 representing his fridge and freezers goods, while basing itself on article 8 of Chapter 536 of the Laws of Malta.
The Summer 2023 Power-Cuts
This certainly leaves consumers asking more questions as they wonder whether they will be continuing their favourite book under candle-light tonight.
Have the Summer 2023 power-cuts been avoidable? Is Enemalta still relying on the secondary cable which could not handle the load during those 20 hours in Summer 2021? If it has, have these power-cuts been avoidable this time round? Could the high-tension faults have been predicted given the rising number of consumers in Malta and Gozo?